Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Living in the gray

I grew up in a world where things were black and white, right and wrong. A world that could be kept tidy and organized by placing it in this box or that. It’s been a journey to explore the gray, and to find a posture of comfort in the land of “maybe we don’t have all the answers,” to lean into the mystery of God and embrace this idea that perhaps my feeble mind cannot possibly unwrap the grandeur of His plan.
As much as I would love to celebrate our victory as a society, a church family, and as individuals for being open to explore a story written in multiple shades of color, try as we may, we too often default to our safety zones, and attempt to categorize the genres of everyone’s story onto the shelves we deem appropriate.
In reality, the only story we know how to catalogue, is our own.
This past week, in small group, Melinda share a devotional from Jen Hatmaker. This line continues to play over and over, “Your vulnerability makes a path for my own. Your truth-telling says to me, “I will not despise, judge, or abandon you.” Ironically, it gives me the courage to be afraid, the strength to be weak.”
As true as I know her words to be, I am sure we have all experienced living them out to be a completely different account. I have seen first-hand how someone’s story can be empowering, and I have witnessed times where my own moments of vulnerability began to lay a path for another’s story to emerge. But there’s always another side ….
Lately for me, sharing my story hasn’t ended with abandonment like it has in the past. It’s been filled with more questioning about how I choose to share my story, like, why I chose to be so open about the “gay parts” of it. Too often I hear “it doesn’t matter who you fall in love with or lay your head down beside at night,” but here is the thing, if you don’t care that I am in love with another woman, then you can’t possibly understand that when we are sitting side by side in church and she reaches out to hold my hand, in an instant I am left with the decision: should I hang onto it or should I give her a quick pat and pull my hand away because I am not sure how the person in front of me or beside me or behind me will react when they see two woman holding hands in church. If you don’t care who I lay my head beside at night, then you possible can’t begin to understand the triumph I feel when I receive her hand and I do not let go of it, or how I feel like the biggest chicken in the room and I am overcome with such disappointment when I pat her hand, and pull mine away.
You see, it’s those unique and real struggles that make up my story. When those are dismissed, then I remain unseen.
If I can’t share my excitement about a book or a concert of a Christian artist who was disowned by the Christian community when she came out of the closet, without being questioned why I had to share the fact she was gay, then you don’t see me.
I will never forgot, one Sunday morning, after months of wedding planning and having difficult conversation after difficult conversation about same sex marriage and the church, Melinda and I, as we walked in, were stopped by a man, that did not stand on the same side of this issue as we did. He greeted us, smiled, and asked, “How’s the wedding planning going.”  I never in a million years thought he would acknowledge a part of our life that we knew he disagreed with. Instead of taking our story and tucking it away on some hidden black shelf never to be opened or read, that morning, he opened our book, stepped into the gray, and saw us.
Maybe living in the gray, for some, doesn’t mean they compromise their moral code of this being right and that being wrong.
Maybe living in the gray for some means they have learned to live with their own story, and because of it have a better insight into grace and understanding that it’s messier than it appears.
Maybe living in the gray doesn’t change our views of how we think it should be, it just means we stop putting the black and white above seeing people, in the midst of their own stories.
Perhaps it’s when we step into the gray, where Jen Hatmaker’s words become a little easier. Where our moments of vulnerability provide permission for others to pull their own books off the shelf and begin reading a few pages from their story.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A guest blogger: Kim Denmark: Leaves

So, I’m thinking that meaning in life comes from our ability to create change and sometimes the beauty seems to be in our capacity to yield to it. The struggle for me, at least at the moment, seems to be in discerning which one will be the most advantageous. Should one only yield to change when she is powerless to change the situation? Our culture seems to teach us that, always telling us to go after our dreams, chase down success. The questions occur to me: Do dreams or success ever just come to us? Could the yielding to or accepting of situations that we perceive to be less than favorable actually be a step in the right direction in helping one achieve a dream or success?
I was walking through the woods today and I kept getting hit in the head with falling leaves. Finally, I decided to stop and look up at them. So, here are these leaves that were once all green and beautiful. I mean, don’t we consider the green leaf to be the normal leaf, the leaf in its most natural state, its truest self? It seems to me that if I was a leaf, I would be the proudest after I pushed out of my little bud and was displaying my newborn self proudly on my branch. Great work, right? Tremendous effort. Way to push through and get what you want, leaf. Right?
Except see, I’m not so sure anymore because here comes fall, demanding change. I mean nothing stays the same forever, right? Geez, come on life, you almost seem to want it both ways. So the leaf must yield. That must suck to have no power to control the change that is coming your way. I can relate. But then, the most amazing thing happens…the leaf turns into a beautiful color. I love colored leaves. In fact, I prefer them to green leaves, even if they tell me green is the best. Yielding.
Then, like today, when I was watching the leaves, they finally have to leave their little branch. The wind demands it. No choice. Powerless. I watched them coming down at me. It made me laugh and cry all at the same time. They almost seemed to be having fun. I’m not kidding. They were spinning and twirling and going back and forth every which way before they just landed, very softly and graciously, I might add, on the ground. Dead. For goodness sake, surely this is taking it too far. My god, leaf, do something. Don’t let them kill you!
But, then, here’s the thing. The leaf helps keep the forest alive in its dead, decomposing state. I learned recently that the dead leaves in the swamp create peat, which ultimately, many yielding leaves later, creates a new forest floor. A new forest where there used to be a swamp. The leaves made that by just giving up and dying. Great job leaves. Way to go!
So do we only yield when we perceive that giving up will cause more good than harm? Or when fighting for what we want would cause more harm than good? And who’s to say what is good? It’s hard to know sometimes in the moment, especially when all you can feel is the losing, the not getting, the dying. To fight or yield, that is still my question.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Happy One Year!

Well baby, it’s February 25th, 2016. It’s been a hell of a ride, ain’t it?!! But we are here---we’re together!
Happy One year my beautiful bride.
It’s funny, at times, how it feels like more than 365 days fill the gap between then and now. And yet, this morning, the emotions and memories flood in and it feels like only yesterday we stood, hand in hand, making a promise of forever. 
Man, you were beautiful that day! Your hair fell perfectly, your eyes sparkled with anticipation, and your smile was as exquisite as it’s ever been. Our feet trekked through the snow sprinkled park, and our fingers fidgeted to stay warm under the tile ceiling of the Bethesda Terrace. As we made promises that from then on forever linked our lives, we were surrounded by a support system, which to this day, seems too good to be true. From our stolen moments in The Village after the ceremony to the laughter and friendship that filled the walls of Philip Marie, our day was truly perfect. 

As perfect as it was, we knew that the road ahead would hold more imperfect days than not. And that's been true. Marriage at times seems to be an odd choice that we love birds make. It's a choice to live a life of selflessness, a life of mutuality.  It's a decision to love, a decision to consistently play second fiddle to one another. It's a life spent laying down of one's own way, and embracing a never ending compromise. It's making a lifelong covenant that joins our lives together without knowing what the future will unfold. It's saying, that even though we aren't guaranteed any particular outcome, I choose you. I choose to make this thing work. It's beautiful, and messy, and complicated, and fun, and frustrating, and rewarding, and crazy ... and yet, it's a choice, with you, I would make over and over and over again. 
This year we have celebrated each other’s joys and we have cheered on each other's successes. We have seen one another's flaws and we have witnessed each other's imperfections---we know each other better for it. This year has held many 'honeymooner' moments, where we couldn't get enough of one another---where our faces hurt from all the smiles, our bellies ached from all the laughter, and our hearts overflowed with gratitude. It's been filled of moments where we have disagreed passionately, where we were stubborn and uncompromising, and where doubt fought to rear its ugly head.  And yet, by God's grace, we clung tight to the promise we vowed and made the choice to love, even when we didn't feel it. 
In the day to day routine of life, it feels as if so little has changed. While all the crucial parts remain intact, looking back over the past 12 months it continues to catch me off guard at how much change has been a part of our story ... how much we have grown, and how much farther we stand from where we began. It's truly an unimaginable gift, this marriage thing, to share life so intertwined with another soul, yet remain equally and uniquely independent, moving forward together, into a land of the unknown.   
As messy or as breathtaking our journey may be, I am honored to do it by your side. May the next 40 years be as adventurous as our first. May the next 480 months push us into those waters that have no borders, where we lean hard on our vows, lean hard into Christ, and find amazement and wonder every step of the way. May the next 14,600 days hold more laughter than we can stand, and more grace than we know how to give. 
Our marriage is far from perfect my love, but it sure has been, and no doubt will continue be an awesome ride!!
One year down .... Forever to go!!



Thursday, February 11, 2016

From Ashes to Ashes

Last night under the dark skies of the country, far from our home in suburba, we entered into a room dimly lit, filled with church family, and home to a small table placed as the focal point, topped with candles and ashes. We were there for an Ash Wednesday service—a service that marks the beginning of Lent. A night designed to help us pause and to come face to face with our humanity. A humanity that encompasses selfish gains, failures, disobedience and brokenness. It’s a night that reminds me to come down from my high horse, to sit with my short comings and to speak humbly the prayer of confession. There is something slightly uncomfortable yet, beautifully sacred about it all. Perhaps the uncomfortable part comes from not being raised in a church where this time for confession was set aside---where this idea to reflect and lean into our weaknesses was given space to breath. At times, attending such a service feels alien, yet, in the depths of my soul, it calls me to partake.  This summer, in my season of "withdrawal" if you will, I drove downtown and walked into the doors of a Episcopal church, alone, not knowing what to expect, and for the first time spoke the words of this prayer:

Most merciful God,
We confess that we have sinned against you
In thought, word, and deed,
By what we have done,
And by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
Have mercy on us and forgive us;
That we may delight in your will,
And walk in your ways,
To the glory of your name. Amen.

It was a pivotal moment in my faith, and continues to be so. Last night we spoke similar words, and the reality of my humanity stumbled out of the dark corners of my being.

Mother Teresa said, “The reality of my sins must come first …”

It’s impossible to encounter the power of the Gospel and the mystery of Christ if we never come to face to face with our humanity. If we never deal with the reality of our sin. If we never acknowledge that we are broken. I won't lie, it is not a warm and fuzzy place to rest, however, it is a reminder, I need more often, to not only show me what I am not, but to show me who He is. 

Ash Wednesday, for me, is a day to face those dark corners. To confess that I fall short ... and to know that it's OK.  It's a time for my soul to lean into the words found in Joel 2:12-13, to tear my heart wide open in the presence of a God who's grace and love will forever far exceed my understanding. It's a time that marks an intentional  40 day journey to throw off all that hinders, to flee from the sins that so easily entangles, (Hebrews 12:1) and to run this path of set before me in order to seek Him more deeply, and to draw close. It's a path that will lead to celebration, and resurrection, and life. A path that will remind me of His love and His grace upon grace upon grace that he continually lavishes over me. 

From ashes to ashes, from dust to dust. 

Let the adventure begin!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Goodbye 34, Hello 35.

In five short days, my life as a thirty four year old woman will be over. (For anyone who lives in the digits above thirty five, I ask that you please keep your eye rolling to respectable minimum.) It’s true, I will make my camp in <deep breath>the land of the mid-thirties. I’m not excited. And in fact, for most of you, you have heard me do quite the belly aching. I mean if you want to put this in concrete terms, I will no longer be able to check the twenty something to 34 year old age bracket on surveys or questionnaires.  You might ask, “how often do you fill out surveys or questionnaires Mel,” and the truth is, rarely. But it will happen, I’m sure, and when it does I will have to check that box that say 35-44, and I am pretty sure that is going to sting. Get this, 15 years from now, I will be 50! And just think it was 15 years ago that I was in college, which seems like yesterday, which is a pretty good indicator of just how fast 50 is going to hit me like a ton of bricks. And if I think 50 is coming fast, in five days I will be half way to 70!

Believe me, I can whine about getting older, and it might even be true that make-up remover, SPF 50 and wrinkle cream at my age are no longer accessories, rather assets, but perhaps my petty complaints about turning 35 run deeper than these surface grievances. Year 34 has been a pivotal year for me. It forever will be the year that is the guardian of some of my most sacred moments, as well as the keeper of the parts of my journey that almost crushed me in defeat. It’s been year 34 that has taught me that maybe our journey isn’t about becoming this ideal, or living up to the absurd expectations that weigh upon our shoulders. But, that maybe our journey is more about unbecoming. Unbecoming what others tell us we should be. Unbecoming what we tell ourselves we should be. Unbecoming to the point where are left naked, uncovered and vulnerable, bearing only our souls at the feet of God who’s grace is the source of our completeness.

And there lies the depth of my fear. Not necessarily in the actual turning of 35, but in the moving forward. I know how hard it will be to remain in this place of contentment, where I am stripped down to the bare bones of my soul, where God has chosen to scoot in close and where I have been embraced by this simple peace, this humble confidence and understanding of who I am. As the pages turn into 2016, and into the 35th year of my existence,  I know that there will be chapters of life that blindside me, there will be weighty expectations I struggle to fight off, and there will doubt that creeps in to challenge my understanding of God’s grace. The fear isn’t paralyzing, and most days it’s not loud enough to cause harm. But it’s there. And for some odd reason, the face of year 35 has taken on this burden of anxiety.

But, if year 34 taught me anything, it taught me that God, who is full of grace and is abundant in this amazing, unwavering love, meets us where we are, every step. This year He met me in Central Park as I made an everlasting covenant with the love of my life. He met me when the church, and family, and friends drew their line and stood on the other side, opposing our marriage. He met me as new friendships blossomed, as a new support systems emerged. He met me in the lonely times where work kept Melinda away. And He met me on the adventures we spent together. He met me when a drink or food couldn’t fill the void. And He met me on the mountain tops of the Shenandoah Valley.  Looking back it’s easy to see that in every step He was there, in every storm He was there, and in every victory He was there. Despite my fears, He was faithful.

Therefore, 35 here’s your apology. I have moaned about your coming long enough. You are certain to hold what I fear will be: days of failure, moments of defeat, the pain of loss, and times of trouble. But you too, will be the protector of my sacred days, my holy moments, the beautiful blessings, those times where I am reminded that God loves me too much to let any failure, sin, defeat and pain be the final word.

So bring on the wrinkle cream, the spanks, and let the gray hair take over. Perhaps 35 won’t be so bad. I mean I can still touch my toes, I can afford wrinkle cream, and in 5 days, I will be old enough to run for President!